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Donald Henderson
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Sacking the messenger

11 December 2013, 09:35

As celebrations of the life and times of Nelson Mandela reach their peak with political pledges to continue his commitment to freedom, there are dark omens of advantage being taken of the moment to extend political ambitions to the ultimate detriment of everyone in the country.

While the ANC, quite rightly, is riding the emotional wave of Mandela's extraordinary successes, there are others within their patronage doing their best to cover their tracks before Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report on Nkandla is officially released.

When that will be is still a matter of conjecture and a bone of contention, but the longer it gathers dust the more pressure and opportunity there will be to modify its contents, “for security reasons” or otherwise.

We have had a sneak preview in leaked reports through the media and already it is not looking good for some people in high places. Not least in the departments of police and justice who have been trying their level best to suppress the report. But, more seriously, there has been condemnation of the President and his family who may have benefitted from the huge amount of taxpayer money used in developing the estate.

In another revelation from the public protector's leaky office is the report that a tender awarded two years ago by the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries for the management of its fleet of patrol and research vessels contains “irregularities”. In today's easy-speak that generally means dodgy dealings.

The tender was worth a cool R800m and was awarded to Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium, which is led by businessman Iqbal Survé. The protector's report allegedly found evidence of bid rigging and said the contract was improper and constituted maladministration.

This leak came through The Sunday Times and was published in its sister paper, Cape Times. Now we learn that the Cape Times editor was fired last Friday after publication of the story. There was no reason given at the time for the dismissal but guess who is the controlling shareholder in both newspapers . . . none other than Sekunjalo Consortium. In another play with company names Sekunjalo Investments is suing the newspapers over publication of the story. Latest news is that Surve has denied firing the editor but had offered her “various other positions” which, under the circumstances, seems most implausible.

Sekunjalo would appear to enjoy wonderful relations with certain members of the ruling party and appears to be at pains to provide protection from prying media seeking the truth. Now they control Independent Newspapers, the largest newspaper group in the country. With The Sunday Times, Pretoria News, The Star, The Mercury, Daily News, Cape Times, Cape Argus, Weekend Argus, The Independent, Sunday Independent and others, Sekunjalo, under whatever title, seems to have matters pretty well tied up as far as the printed word in South Africa is concerned.

With the print industry in general finding business extremely and increasingly tough it is not the place that an astute investment business would be likely to seek good fortune. Unless there are alterior motives behind Sekunjalo's recent acquisition of Independent Newspapers. And sacking an editor suggests incompetency where there should be discretion and autocracy where there should be freedom of speech.

The sacking smacks of limiting Press freedom to publish the truth as they see fit and has more than a whiff of what to expect from the Protection of State Information Bill – better known as the Secrecy Bill .

These are ominous signs which would be outrighly condemned by our spiritual leader and come at a time when his funeral arrangements provide an opportunity for the bad apples in government and business to clean the slate of all past misdemeanours and lay the foundations for future rich pickings.

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